Excerpts from a conversation between Dulquer Salmaan and Vishal Menon:
Tell me a little bit about why you decided to be a producer. This is something every actor in Malayalam takes up after a point but what was the reason you decided to get into production?
My reasons are a little different from the others. I’ve mentioned this in other interviews also. I love languages and I love to explore different characters in Tamil, Telugu or Hindi. It is not some grand plan of mine to become this so-called pan-Indian actor. I don’t understand what that means and I don’t think it makes any sort of difference to how my movies are consumed. But because of this sort of greed or love for other languages, I do want to continue doing work in Tamil and Telugu. At the same time I still want to be a part of all the amazing cinema that we are doing in Malayalam. So you can call me greedy or whatever it is, but I want to try and be everywhere, which is my thought behind production.
The last time we spoke, you were promoting Karwaan and you said you would have still done the film if the script had come in Malayalam or Tamil. The same way, when you read a script, be it a female-oriented film or an animation film, do you feel that you should be associated with it in some way?
For almost all of us actors, there is no real science or anything behind choosing a film. You kind of go with your gut or your instinct. It might reflect your personal tastes. May be, I might like certain kinds of music or I am a bit of a romantic, or, may be, I like certain kinds of books. So, that might affect my choice of films and that is applicable to actors across the world. With Wayfarer Films, I want to explore all kinds of movies. It can be a family film, or it can be a small film with newcomers like in Maniyarayile Ashokan, it can be a massive production like we are doing in Kurup. But I ideally want to do it entirely on our own. I don’t want to kind of outsource anything. I want to build my own team. Which is why we started with a small team like Maniyarayile Ashokan. All five departments of that film were new. The DOP, writer, director, music director, even publicity stills and all of that was new. Along with that, my production team was also new. There were guys who quit fairly good jobs to come and work in cinema because they loved the movies. And then we decided to start on a small film. We had Varane Avashyamund, which we had already committed to. So, I said that way we can build a foundation and scale up. And then, we scaled further to Kurup. But all these films are made by my team of people and I am very proud of that.
Maniyarayile Ashokan is a very good looking film. A lot of pain and effort have gone in to construct ‘moments’. Is there a regret now when you watch that film, thinking it would have looked so much better on the big screen?
(laughs) I am hoping that people are not watching it on their phones and at least on a TV screen. I don’t want to meddle too much in the process of the filmmakers but I remember telling the DOP that, “This is your first film and you really need to show-off.” That is the only kind of brief I remember having given the young gentleman (Sajad Kakku). And, it is a beautiful looking film and in no way can you say that it had poor production values. It is sad that it can’t be watched in cinemas. But I am still glad that people at least got to see the film. And I am glad that for Onam we still got three new releases. If this option wasn’t there, we just wouldn’t have had new content. It has already been six months and maybe if it takes another six months, imagine going an entire year without new content from Malayalam cinema. So, I am very grateful to Netflix for giving us that opportunity.
Originally if this film was meant for the OTT, do you think your star cameo would’ve been a part of this script? Isn’t that a very theatre kind of way of thinking?
Correct. But I find it very embarrassing to do cameos in my own films, as a producer. Because a) that movie starts with the Thank You cards, the name of my production house and after that produced by Dulquer Salmaan and Jacob Gregory. And then I start the voice over, and then the first song hits and it is my voice. I was dying and cringing. I did not realise that this is how it is going to come about (laughs). But you know when a bunch of these new kids come and for the first time they are making this film, they really are excited and have big dreams on it. And when they say, “Hey, can you do a small role in the film?” it becomes very difficult for me to say no. In my head, it wasn’t about selling it better. The way they asked me, I found it very difficult to say no. Though, of course, (laughs) in my own production, when I do an intro shot, I want to hide in my seat and cover my face. I am very bad at promoting my film and pitching it. Even in my own movies, I think it took a long time to be open to being in a major, classic intro shot. It is very difficult for me to accept myself like that. But with these kids I would have felt sad if I said no and I wanted to stay with the film as much as I can.
Coming to the OTT phase, do you think reviews and things like word-of-mouth matters anymore?
Hmmm… I feel like the whole thing is interlinked. There is one industry and so many other things that are connecting to it or supplying to it or catering to it. So there is no way that I can make a film and nobody will review it or say bad about the film. That is a part and parcel of it. But this is me personally and I am sure I am very different from other people, I am not somebody who decides to read a book based on reviews. I might go by rankings like say, “The top 10 books that are out,” and I’ll try and find something that I like. Even with music, it is very difficult for me to decide with the review whether I will like it or not. Because I think with any kind of art it is very subjective. A painting can be liked by some people and not by others. The negative stuff will hurt you, affect you and you might lose sleep over it for a few days. But after that you start to think, “How do I not repeat that same mistake?“ or “How do I not give them a chance to criticise?” It is definitely what pushes you harder and steers you in the right direction. I have become open to it and gotten used to it. When you are young and starting out, you are very insecure and very worried about the future. Not that I am not worried about my future now, I always am (laughs). But you just learn how to take it.
So the reviews don’t affect you much compared to earlier now?
I think I’ve gotten better at it. I am obsessive by nature. I will spend two-three days losing sleep over something. It is very common and my family knows this. Whether it is the movies or it could be an incident with a friend saying something mean, I will mull over it for a few days. I think it’s all constructive and pushes us to be better.
When you look back at this lockdown phase, how much will you give yourself in terms of productivity? Have you been super-productive or have you let go a little like all of us have?
I definitely let go in the first few months. I genuinely cherish the time that I got with my daughter because this is a time that I would not have gotten otherwise. So, now, I have a very strong role to play in her life. Like her everyday routine has me in some or the other way. She says, “Papa you’ve to give me a bath today” or like I’ve to read her bedtime story or whatever. That I am very grateful for. Also, even with Wayfarer Films, I think that we have got some time now and so we think of brainstorming and seeing where to steer the company and what kind of projects we should do. Or even when we are sitting with Kurup, and doing the dub or the edit, we are like, “Hey, we have this time. So why don’t we sit and think of every way we can edit the film in. Why don’t we explore a different way to edit and tell the story.” I think that just happens, because after a point you are not doing anything, and you are open to seeing the positive takeaways from this.
So, it’s not like you have been working out every day and you’ve been sleeping only for the correct seven or eight hours?
I train every day for an hour-and-a-half or so. I’ve taken my time to watch things that I want to watch, read things that I’ve wanted to read, get into the kitchen and do a lot of things that I have been meaning to do and complained that I don’t have the time. I am not saying that I am super productive and all that, but after about three months of faffing, it was important to do something useful with my life.
So, has there been a show that you’ve binge-watched?
I did go through all those shows I had missed. I watched Chernobyl. My wife and I then went on a This is Us binge. Then I got into a lot of these crime shows, crime thrillers and crime documentaries. For some reason, for a long time, Amal and I used to sit up and watch Forensic 5. This is a show that I used to watch when I was in school and it was called Medical Detectives. So now, they’ve changed the same show to Forensic 5 and it is on Netflix. It is like 9 seasons with 42 episodes each, so when we have nothing else to watch, that is our go-to show. Then, we finished Master Chef. This is probably the reason all of us got back into the kitchen.
Mammukka’s birthday is coming up… What is your favourite Mammukka movie from the ‘80s.
I really love Kanamarayathu. I love the fact that he was doing older roles when he was way younger.
In the ‘90s…
There are so many but I would say Amaram and Sangam.
Probably Big B.
In terms of Mammukka’s looks in certain films, which is your favourite?
As a fanboy, I’d say Samrajyam. His beard, set back hair, suits… all were great.
Is there any Mammukka film you re-discovered and studied during this phase?
I was watching Mathilukal and Vidheyan. Now, there are new prints of these films. And I was like, I need to become so much better (laughs). I think if any of us wants a reality check, we just have to go back and watch Vappichi (Mammootty) or Lal uncle’s (Mohanlal) work. And we can just be like, “What are you doing with your life?” (laughs)
What can you tell us about Kurup? Is it a kind of film that you can imagine releasing on OTT?
Definitely not. It is a film that was conceived, planned, made for a theatrical experience. I definitely want to try and hold it as far as we can and achieve that for sure.